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Military won't take medevac flightsCFB Edmonton declines request to have medical aircraft land on its airstrip
Northern News Services
Published Friday, Oct 19, 2012
As was previously reported, an airstrip at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Edmonton was being looked at as a possible alternate landing strip for medevac planes.
The Alberta government had approached CFB Edmonton last December to request some civilian planes, including medevacs, be allowed to land at its Namao Airstrip.
However, following its review, the military has decided against opening the base to civilian aircraft, said Jennifer Wright, spokesperson for CFB Edmonton.
"The impact far outweighs the perceived advantages, so we're not going to re-activate the airfield for outside use," she told Yellowknifer. "All airfields on the army base are utilized for military use only because of the impact on the military training."
About 25 per cent of Canada's army are trained at CFB Edmonton, and that training needs to remain the facility's top priority, said Wright.
"We always knew that that was one option that was being looked at but it wasn't the only solution," said Debbie DeLancey, deputy minister of Health and Social Services.
While the medevac landing issue is being dealt with by the City of Edmonton and the Alberta government, the GNWT health department has been keeping an eye on the issue because it will affect patients travelling south from the territory, she said.
Currently, medevac flights from the NWT use an airstrip at Edmonton City Centre Airport. However, the City of Edmonton is in the process of decommissioning the airport and moving all air traffic to the Edmonton International Airport, located farther away from both of the city's hospitals.
It is becoming evident that medevac flights to Edmonton will likely use the international airport, located south of the city, said DeLancey.
This option has been accepted by the Alberta government, although it has made a number of recommendations to the city as to what would be needed to make this a safe and effective landing site. Some of these recommendations include building special on-and-off ramps for ambulances to access highways and having helicopters on standby at the Edmonton airport to transport patients to hospital more quickly.
"A medevac going to the (Edmonton City Centre Airport) is within 10 to 15 minutes of either of the major hospitals and we have people who have attested to the fact that, you know, brain damage was avoided because they got there so quickly. You know, 'We still have a father because the heart attack was handled so efficiently,'" said Mayor Gord Van Tighem. "If you start adding half an hour to those 15 minutes what does that do when time is of the essence? "
DeLancey could not comment on her department's position on this plan.
"We're waiting to see the implementation proposals before we know whether we're satisfied," she said.
While Edmonton city council is standing by its decision to have the downtown airstrip shut down, no date has been set for when medevac planes will have to stop using the facility, said Ronna Bremer, spokesperson for the City of Edmonton.
However, the city has made a commitment to keep the airport available to medevac flights until alternate arrangements can be made. The municipal government in Edmonton is currently waiting on the provincial government to present viable options for medevac flights.
The issue was debated in the legislative assembly in February, when Health Minister Tom Beaulieu vowed to take a more active role in negotiations.
Beaulieu declined Yellowknifer's request for comment at this time because there are still too many outstanding variables on the issue, according to department spokesperson Sean Dean.
Van Tighem, who has been lobbying against the closure of the downtown Edmonton airport since 1988 when he was a representative on an Edmonton Chamber of Commerce committee before moving to Yellowknife, questioned whether the downtown airport would ever be closed to medevac flights. Some groups currently using the airport in downtown Edmonton are operating on lease agreements that continue for more than 30 years, he said, and there has been at least one court action filed to date demanding the airport authority honour those lease agreements.
Concerns over the added travel time aside, the international airport alone may not be enough to keep medevac flights landing in the city long-term, he said.
"If we have to medevac to the international, the plane has to carry enough fuel to make an alternate (landing) and the alternate would likely be Calgary," Van Tighem said.
Distance between Edmonton hospitals and airports
From Edmonton City Centre Airport, current medevac landing site:
to University of Alberta Hospital - 11.3 km, 18 minutes *
to Royal Alexandra Hospital - 4.4 km, 8 minutes
From Edmonton International Airport, potential medevac landing site:
to University of Alberta Hospital - 32.7 km, 41 minutes *
to Royal Alexandra Hospital - 28.1 km, 32 minutes *
* travel time is estimated and depends on traffic, other variables
Source: Google maps